Photo caption: The Sovereign Community School is located in Oklahoma City and is seeing an increase in enrollment for the upcoming school year. Courtesy Photo/Indianz.com
OKLAHOMA CITY — Rather than merge with one of its neighbors, a cash-strapped Indigenous charter school will be conducting classes this fall with an additional grade.
At its June 25 meeting, the state Board of Education voted unanimously to allow the Sovereign Community School to take out a $700,000 loan from Santa Fe South Development, Inc., an Oklahoma City-based property acquisition entity that works with charter schools and education-focused non-profit organization.
“This is not a donation,” Chris Brewster said. “This is a bridge loan that must be repaid.”
In addition to serving on the board of directors for Santa Fe South Development, Inc., Brewster is the superintendent of Santa Fe South Charter Schools.
Earlier this spring, the boards of education for both Santa Fe South Charter Schools and Sovereign Community School approved a temporary merger to keep Sovereign Community School open while it addressed almost $200,000 in debts, including more than $170,000 in contributions to the state’s teacher retirement fund. However, that proposed merger got a chilly reception from the state board of education, Sovereign Community School’s sponsor, thus prompting the loan discussion instead.
“Our board has already decided they want to support it (Sovereign Community School) because they believe in it,” Brewster said. “No other lifeboats are out there, but I would love to see someone else offer a solution.
“We may wind up that they don’t make it and we wind up with a hickey from this.”
As per the terms of the state school board’s approval, Sovereign Community School’s annual audit will be expedited, and the school will be expected to present monthly financial reports to the state board of education.
Additionally, under the terms of the loan, Santa Fe South Development, Inc., will have a representative on Sovereign Community School’s board of directors until it is repaid.
Along with covering the school’s remaining debt to the teacher retirement fund, the loan would cover the upfront costs associated with surging enrollment projections. After receiving interest from 35 additional students for just a single grade, Sovereign Community Schools sought and received permission to offer fifth grade for the 2020-2021 school year. Previously, the school only had sixth and ninth grades.
However, Sovereign Community Schools would not receive additional state aid to cover the additional costs associated with those additional students until their mid-year allocation.
“We are seeing a daily rise in applications,” Sovereign Community Schools Superintendent Matt Wilson said. “This will make it so families can bring their younger brothers and sisters who couldn’t come here last year and be more closely aligned with Oklahoma City Public Schools. It’ll make things more convenient for everyone.”
With a curriculum emphasizing Indigenous culture and traditions, Sovereign Charter School started classes in August. It had to delay the start of its inaugural school year after its original campus site did not pass mandatory building inspections, thus prompting a scramble to find a new location and unexpected additional expenses.
Organizers were eventually able to lease the former home of Justice Alma Wilson SeeWorth Academy, a now-shuttered charter school targeting at-risk Oklahoma City students. However, the uncertainty about the status of the school’s campus caused enrollment to plummet to about 40 students. Although those figures have since rebounded, many of the new students were not added until after Oct. 1, which is the date used to calculate enrollment-based state aid.
“The impact of overestimating our enrollment cannot be stressed enough,” Sovereign Community School treasurer Jacob Tsotigh said. “We are very grateful that Santa Fe South Development has extended this offer. This allows us to maintain autonomy and control over our own learning community.”